What are UK councils doing to tackle climate change?

While some are dragging their heels, other councils are really pushing for drastic change.

Delve into any council’s official literature or website resources and you’ll find that many have some kind of climate change strategy in place, usually involving a variety of initiatives such as making homes energy efficient or investing in renewable energy. But while some councils are dragging their heels, others are making real strides in tackling the climate crisis.

Last year, Bristol city council became the first local authority to declare a climate emergency. While there is no single definition of what that term means, Bristol councillor Carla Denyer – who first put forward the idea – said that by doing so, “we are acknowledging we are in an emergency situation”. Since then, 205 of the UK’s principal 408 authorities have done the same.

These councils, which span the length and breadth of the country, are committed to taking firm action against climate change. General government targets aim to cut UK greenhouse gas emissions to almost zero by 2050, and while this is ambitious – the UK is the first major nation to propose such a target – councils that have declared a climate emergency want to make a meaningful change even sooner, with many saying they want to be carbon neutral by 2030.

Bristol is playing a major role in driving the climate conversation. In light of the climate emergency wave, Mayor Marvin Rees has created the One City Climate initiative, and in doing so has created a ‘blueprint’ for action which is being adopted by a number of other cities, including Belfast, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle, Nottingham and Sheffield. However, there is still support to expand Bristol airport and no plans yet to tackle air pollution caused by vehicles in Bristol City Centre, so the path to net zero carbon emissions is by no means straightforward.

In Cambridgeshire, the council has announced plans to double the county’s natural and green spaces by 2050, while Monmouthshire County Council has changed its school milk contract, so that all 437,000 school milk bottles are now glass and not plastic. Blackpool Council has become the first in the UK to support the BinForGreenSeas project, and in Neath Port Talbot, council officials are drawing up cutting edge plans to develop minewater heating facilities that could be used to heat thousands of homes at low cost across the county.

Elsewhere, plans are even grander. Cornwall Council recently announced its £30 million flagship ‘Forest for Cornwall’ project, which will see a 20,000-acre forest planted in a bid to help the area become carbon neutral by 2030.

Meanwhile, Oxford wants to be home to the world’s first Zero Emission Zone, and is currently trialling what it believes is the world’s largest hybrid battery to power ground source heat pumps that will serve around 300 homes and increase electric vehicle-charging capability in the city.

Nottingham, however, is arguably the most ambitious council, having set a target for the whole city to be carbon neutral by 2028 – it met its previous target of cutting CO2 emissions by a quarter by 2020 two years early. The city already has one of the UK’s largest fleets of electric buses and claims to have the world’s largest fleet of biogas double deckers, while its trams are powered by renewable energy.

The city’s waste collection depot is fitted with solar panels to charge its trucks and street sweepers, and it’s implemented a workplace parking levy, which generates £9 million a year to be spent on climate action. Now the city is upping the ante by pledging to plant 10,000 trees and creating bee-friendly areas in all neighbourhoods, as well as ensuring every new council house built has solar panels, and committing to end the use of single use plastics by 2023.

And these are just some of the initiatives happening around the UK – there are dozens more, both large and small. But while these council-driven projects have the potential to make a real impact on climate change, don’t underestimate the power of taking action at an individual level – a lot of small change adds up to a big change, and that’s what sends an important message to those that make key climate decisions.

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